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NHS Finance (London)

Volume 458: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2007

Ministers have regular meetings with MPs and other stakeholders about services in London. We also receive a regular flow of correspondence from across the country, including London.

To balance its books, Epsom and St. Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust is making cuts of £24 million in beds and clinical staff over the coming year. As part of that, it has a programme of cutting one in four beds across the trust. In October this year, it closed one ward at St. Helier hospital and reduced another from 26 to 14 beds, only to decide in December to reverse those decisions and reopen the wards. Surely that is the sort of false economy that undermines and disrupts staff teams, damages morale and puts patient care and safety at risk.

Overspending in the health service must be tackled; if it is not tackled, that will store up problems in the health economy of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, to the detriment of patients who live there. It will also put on hold plans to invest in improving the health of people in the east of London who have contributed top slices to the central fund. I would be the first to agree that overspending should be tackled sensitively, without compromising patient care. Having looked at the trust plan to make savings by March 2008, however, I am satisfied that it is taking appropriate steps to recover such overspending. It is making progress, and the hon. Gentleman should support it in doing so. Ultimately, that will benefit his constituents, as well as the rest of London.

The City and Hackney Teaching primary care trust was top-sliced because it is a good financial performer, as I have often said in the House. Will my hon. Friend tell the PCT and the people of Hackney when the money that was top-sliced from it will be returned?

It is precisely because of the rigour in the system and the requirement that overspending be tackled that we can begin to return money for investment to those parts of London where health is poorest. To put that in context, London PCTs will receive an average 8.3 per cent. uplift in 2007-08, compared with an average of 5 per cent. this year. The top slice will also be returned earlier than expected because of the overall improvement in London’s finances. The picture is therefore more encouraging, although I do not dispute that difficult decisions needed to be taken to get us into that position.

Will the Secretary of State use her office to ensure that there is joined-up thinking about planning the provision of hospital services? People in Broxbourne face the closure of Chase Farm hospital in Enfield and of the Queen Elizabeth II hospital in Welwyn, which would remove accident and emergency and maternity services from the north and south of the borough. When planning hospital services, will the Secretary of State ensure that such considerations are taken into account, because Hertfordshire and London are very different, although hospital services for the two areas overlap?

I admire the hon. Gentleman’s opportunism in asking his question during a question on London, but I accept that his constituents do use hospital services in the London area. It is important to get the right model of care in London to ensure that its health economies are stable in the future. Professor Sir Ara Darzi is currently conducting a review across London to develop the right model of care and the right balance between high-quality tertiary and secondary services and good-quality services in every community. He is therefore taking forward precisely the issues that the hon. Gentleman is asking us to take on board, and he will report in due course.

The Minister will be aware of the challenge from the Commission for Racial Equality to Brent PCT on the impact of cuts in local heath services, particularly on black and minority ethnic communities. Bearing in mind that, under this Labour Government, health inequalities have been increasing rather than reducing, does he find it acceptable that some of the most vulnerable communities are suffering cuts to vital services—such as district nurses, school nurses and mental health services—in order to clear deficits? Does he plan to do anything about that?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, because it is important. As I said to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), it is important that when decisions are taken to recover a financial position, that must be done sensitively and not have a disproportionate impact on any particular section of the community. The Department is working closely with the Commission for Racial Equality to ensure that that is the case. However, I take that important point on board. I shall consider it in relation to Brent and write to the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), giving a fuller answer to the local situation that he raises.